The Community Preservation Committee chair quietly shook his head. “We just gave away over $1 million in 47 minutes.”
Of course, we were just approving money already there, and our job is to give it away. These are the annual grants to applicants who applied for money to upgrade or construct facilities that benefit the community.
I serve on my town’s Community Preservation Committee, the body of representatives that accept, evaluate, and vote on grants that come from Community Preservation funds.
Years ago, municipalities were given the opportunity to collect, via a 3% surcharge on property tax, money to be distributed as grants to underwrite projects through a competitive grant system. The three original areas eligible for funding are: the preservation of open space, affordable housing and historic preservation. Recreation funding was added later. The commonwealth sends matching funds to the towns through the state budget process from another fee at the Registry of Deeds.
The Community Preservation Act law was passed in 2000, and of the state’s 351 municipalities 244 have held votes as to whether to adopt the act in their town. Of those that voted, only 189 have passed the act. All the communities on the Cape and Islands have done so, and our region is very active in using the money.
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So far, the state match for the money totals over $800 million. The money is not part of the tax rate, but are a 3% additional charge on the bill. Some of the projects funded are the Veterans Home on Route 134, the FORWARD housing for young adults with autism and other impairments on Hokum Rock Road and older projects such as the Graded School House in West Dennis and the restoration of Jericho House by the historic society.
This year, a comprehensive upgrade of the town playgrounds and Johnny Kelley Park are on the agenda.
Much of the request from the Dennis Recreation Department was to continue to upgrade the surfaces around the swings and slides in playgrounds across town. Rather than dirt, wood chips, or stone the new surfaces are a type of hardened rubber that prevents injury and is considered ADA compliant for all users. This is about more than avoiding a possible lawsuit, it is about protecting the children — and adults — who use our recreation facilities. That piece is personal for me.
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Among the park surfaces scheduled to be refurbished is the Braille Trail in Johnny Kelly Park in South Dennis. It is a short loop-shaped walking trail with stations at intervals with Braille descriptions of what kind of flower is there, or what rock or display is there to be scanned with fingers.
For many years, I was the Executive Director of Sight Loss Services here in Dennis. Our founder, June Wenberg conceived of the trail and the organization helped to build it and still consults on its upkeep and features. And it’s not only for those with low vision — it is a relatively short trail with a rope guide alongside and it is used by many older residents as an easy place to get the exercise and walk to keep healthier and limber with light and safe exercise. But should a fall happen, the more forgiving surface will help prevent injuries.
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That will be true at the playgrounds as well. Sometimes, there’s grousing about how we never had that kind of thing years ago — we just stood back up and dusted ourselves off, and continued playing with maybe a scratch or two. But not everybody was that lucky. I have had seizures for most of my life because I was on a see-saw sunk into concrete with my cousin. I was up in the air when her dad called us, and she jumped off and I fell to the ground. The concussion that followed resulted in a life-long medical condition, which wouldn’t have happened if there had been a safer surface under the kiddie ride.
Of course, we didn’t really give the money away exactly. The committee accepts and vets the grant submissions. Then, they follow up as the money is spent and keep an eye on how the funds are used.
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But first, the recommendation has to pass muster with the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee which will make recommendations to the ultimate authority, the Town Meeting in the fall. This process is going on now, with seasonal variations, in all of our towns as the departments and groups develop their plans and requests, submit them to the committees and then have them voted on by the town residents themselves.
It results in a quiet and ongoing refurbishment of our communities and facilities creating additions, remodelings and repairs. And it is preserving our communities through mutual request, and mutual action, as well.
Cynthia Stead is a columnist for the Cape Cod Times and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.